The fallout over the Steelers unexpected loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars seems to be complete now. Todd Haley’s contract is up, and it was announced that he will not be brought back. The Steelers have replaced him with their quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner. On the other side of the ball, Keith Butler will remain as the team’s defensive coordinator in 2018. Coach Mike Tomlin has been quoted as saying that the entire defensive staff is likely to be back. If it seems like a strange choice to let go the coordinator who was mostly successful, while keeping the one who has been wildly unsuccessful, that’s because it is. There are some extenuating circumstances for the decisions on both of course. Let’s hash out what happened in each case.
First, let’s tackle the easy one. Todd Haley isn’t a member of this coaching staff for one reason, and one reason only. He is no longer here because the quarterback doesn’t want him here…….pure and simple. The friction between Ben Roethlisberger and his offensive coordinator is well documented. Mike Tomlin tried to pacify his quarterback by bringing Randy Fichtner down from the booth to act as a go between for the two parties. That seemed to work temporarily, but in the end Haley’s fate was sealed. How else do you explain letting go a coordinator who lead the offense to finish 2nd, 7th, 3rd, and 2nd in total offense respectively over the last four years? How do you explain canning the coordinator right after his offense puts up 42 points on the best defense in the NFL?? It’s simple, because the franchise quarterback said so. Not only is that a bad precedent to set, it also leaves Roethlisberger unchallenged by anyone on the coaching staff.
The defensive side is a little……… scratch that, a lot harder to figure out. In almost the exact opposite argument made for Haley, Butler’s defense gave up 45 points to one of the worst offenses in football. That same Jacksonville offense could barely muster 10 points against the Buffalo Bills just a week earlier. It’s not just one game either. This defense has been a train wreck pretty much since the day Butler took over. The run defense is in complete shambles at this point. Just this season alone Pittsburgh has allowed 100 yards rushing to such immortals as Jordan Howard (140), Alex Collins (120), Alfred Blue (108), and of course rookie Leonard Fournette twice (181), (109). The pass defense isn’t much better as they even made Blake Borltes looked invincible on Sunday. Then there’s the confusion and mental mistakes are pretty much the hallmark of a Keith Butler lead defense. Despite all this, Butler’s job inexplicably remains safe for 2018. That is until you dig a little deeper.
The only reasonable explanation as to why Keith Butler is still here lies in the question of who really runs the defense. The answer to that question is now clearly Tomlin. It’s Mike Tomlin’s schemes and philosophies that are failing so badly. So to fire Butler would be essentially saying he is failing himself. Firing Butler would be admitting to management that he’s incapable of running a defense. After all, isn’t that supposed to be his expertice in the first place? If Tomlin can’t coach the defense, can’t manage the clock correctly, and can’t keep his players in line……well then what??
Mike Tomlin has put it all on the line for next season. If the defense continues to waste another prime Ben Roehtlisberger season it may be all over for him. He’s taking a very large gamble that he and Butler can fix the defense next season. There’s been absolutely no evidence that this can happen over the last few years. Whether its stubbornness, or ego, this gamble will most likely end like most of his others recently…….badly.